In 1976, she produced, directed, wrote, acted in and edited the short film "Number One" and became the first woman in the history of the Motion Picture Academy to be nominated for an Oscar for her work done both in front of the camera and behind it. She has recently appeared on television, in "Ally McBeal," as Judge Whipper Cone.
But now Cannon, who was once married to screen legend Cary Grant, has become a high-energy evangelist to the Hollywood crowd with her Saturday night "God's Party with Dyan Cannon & You," a Christian outreach like no other. It takes place regularly at the CBS Studio Center in Studio City, Calif.
Visitors range from Hollywood insiders to people from all across the incredible diversity of the L.A. community. From the moment she arrives, Cannon stamps her personality on this unique blend of southern revival meeting and Kathryn Kuhlman-like healing service. She literally dances around the platform, often suggesting the next worship chorus, and speaks for about an hour and then invites the sick and troubled to come forward for healing.
It is all summed up in a slogan placed to the left of the platform, which reads, "God's Party Is The Only Party."
Cannon says, "I don't think that God has brought me through what He's brought me through by accident. I've sung in musicals, I've acted in movies and I've directed and produced movies. I know every facet of filmmaking and I know He is teaching me now how to be a leader and it doesn't matter what area it is in; it's a principle of faith across the board.
"You see, this is 'God's Party' and we go by what His leading is, and if there is something going on that's not anointed -- I've been patient with that in the past -- but I won't be from now on ... because if it's not anointed, it means we are trying to do it instead of letting God do it, and it then puts people off."
About six years ago, Cannon started a Bible study group in her home. "Somebody else led that one, but it grew to such proportions that we had to move to a hotel, and then when I wasn't attending that one anymore, God just put it on my heart to start another one," she said. The first "God's Party" began in January of 1999.
Cannon admits that "usually people don't think of partying and God. With a Christian event, they usually think of somberness and sobriety and seriousness, instead of a joyful, celebratory atmosphere."
When Cannon felt God leading her to hold the event at CBS, she called the head of the CBS Studio Center to ask him if he would give a room for the "party" to take place. Surprisingly, he agreed to her request. "He's a wonderful Christian man and I think he also liked the idea of this kind of energy on the lot," she explains.
Dyan then got Phil Upchurch, a well-known bass player, to assemble musicians for the first "party." She said, "I thought maybe five people would come, but we had standing room only! I taught on personal motives that night and
gave a bit of witness about what my experience had been in the world before I really allowed God to lead me, and then the Holy Spirit started healing people."
A Long Journey
Cannon says she was brought up in a home with a mother who was Jewish and a father who was Gentile. "My dad agreed that we would be raised Jewish, but that was before Jesus found him," she says. "So, on the way to the synagogue, we would sing, 'Jesus Loves Me This I Know.' Then, at the
synagogue, I would find out that Jesus was not the one that we worshipped. Then back into the car, and I'd sing 'Jesus Loves Me' all the way home.
"So I was really torn because of my allegiance to my parents," Cannon continues. "When my brother finally took his stand for Christ, I said, 'Well, I can't leave mom
alone when she went to the synagogue,' so I stayed with her. I sang in synagogue on Friday nights and I loved the Jewish faith and the Jewish people. However, spiritually, it just didn't seem to fulfill my hunger. The Bible says, 'Seek and you shall find.' It doesn't say that you have to keep on seeking, but trust you will find it."
Cannon also mentions how she had later become so mentally ill that it took six men to hold her down when they came to take her to a psychiatric hospital. Was that the lowest point for her? "There have been several drops along the way, but that was probably the last deep descent," she admits.
It was a long, tortuous road for her to commit her life to God, including disappointments and disillusionment with the morals of some Christian leaders she met along the way, and her battle with psychiatric illness. "It was in and out with my search for God and, ultimately, I couldn't find anything else to fill that black hole in my life," she says.
"I tend to be an extremist. I don't do anything just a little bit. If I do it, I do it all the way. And I was in the wilderness. I made that journey that could have taken a minute and instead spent 11 or 12 years in it, when all my friends were removed, also the money and the career and the wealth and the fame," Cannon says.
"This time around though, it's all to the Glory of God! I made the commitment to God some 20 years ago."